by Tina Perinotto

– 24 July 2009 – President of the NSW Local Government Association, Genia McCaffery, said the regional planning panels announced today by state government would deny residents their democratic rights and would duplicate existing planning processes, at taxpayer expense.

NSW Planning Minister, Kristina Keneally today announced the appointment of 23 panel members who would work in six Joint Regional Planning Panels covering the state.

“The new panels, which will start making decisions from as early as next month, include three State Government appointed members and two members appointed from a relevant local council,” Ms Keneally said.

The panels would determine development proposals with a value between $10-100 million, subdivisions of more than 250 lots and specialist development proposals such as eco-tourism, with a value in excess of $5 million, Ms Keneally said.

They would also determine development applications worth more than $5 million for community infrastructure or projects where council is the applicant.

The Sydney Morning Herald said in its coverage of the announcement today that former politicians, one-time state Labor environment minister Pamela Allan and former Country Party minister Garry West, would chair the southern region and northern region Joint Regional Planning Panels, due to start within weeks.

“Of the 23 panel members to be named by the State Government today, more than half have worked as planning lobbyists or consultants,” the SMH said.

Ms Keneally said the successful state nominees had “an extensive range of experience and qualifications in areas such as town planning, management, architecture and law.”

Ms McCaffery who is also Mayor of North Sydney, said that the panels were another step in the process of removing democratic rights from citizens.

“I think it’s part of the whole process shaped by Craig Knowles [a former NSW Planning Minister] that the power to control development is being concentrated in Macquarie Street, away from local communities and planning panels are only the next step.”

She said the panels work would also duplicate existing processes. Proposals that were considered controversial or non-compliant would still come before local councils but would now be referred to the panels, she said.

“It will be a parallel process funded by the tax payer. And then you can also go to an appeal at the land and environment court also funded by tax payer.”

Ms McCaffery also said the state government claimed the process would be more transparent but she failed to see how.

“I’m at a loss to see how that’s possible since the panels will now be appointed by the minister and accountable to the minister and can be sacked at the minister’s discretion.”

“To me it’s change but it’s not good reform – like most of the changes we’ve had since 1979. Since the current Act was written, we keep getting more and more bandaid on an Act that needs to be rewritten. We’ve been calling for this for three years.  We need to bring the whole system up to the 21st Century.”

Chief executive officer of the Urban Taskforce, Aaron Gadiel, welcomed the panels and said the quality of the new panel members would improve community and industry confidence in the planning system, after corruption inquiries into Wollongong, Rockdale and Strathfield.

He said the panels could bring much needed investment back to NSW.

“Property development in NSW is at record lows,” he said.

“Work started on only 5,200 homes in NSW, compared with 9,100 in Victoria, 5,300 in Queensland
and 28,100 across Australia.

“NSW accounts for 33 per cent of Australia’s population, but it has only 19 per cent of new home construction.

“The number of residential construction starts in NSW has nearly halved since 2002 – from 48,000 new homes in 2002 to 26,900 homes in 2008.

“Since 2001, the real value of non-residential NSW building activity has increased by 43 per cent, but in Victoria it has doubled.”

Joint Regional Planning Panels State appointees are:

  • Sydney East: John Roseth (Chair), David Furlong and Mary-Lynne Taylor, with Julie Savet Ward and Timothy Moore as the alternates.
  • Sydney West: Janet Thompson (Chair), Bruce McDonald and Paul Mitchell, with Stuart McDonald and Lindsay Fletcher as alternates.
  • Hunter and Central Coast: Garry Fielding (Chair), Jason Perica and Kara Krason, with John Colvin and Bob McCotter as alternates.
  • Northern Region: Garry West (Chair), Pamela Westing and John Griffin, with Bruce Clarke as an alternate.
  • Southern Region: Pam Allan (Chair), Alison McCabe and Allen Grimwood, with David McGowan as an alternate.
  • Western Region: The appointment process for the State’s Western Region JRPP is currently underway and will be finalised in the coming weeks.